By CAMERON LANGFORD
BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CN) — The federal judge who blocked President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration ordered Justice Department attorneys to take an ethics class as punishment for lying about the status of more than 100,000 migrants.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen became a hero for the anti-immigrant movement with his February 2015 injunction against two programs that would have expanded the rights of an estimated 5 million undocumented immigrants.
He also became a punch line for immigrant advocates who claimed he was handpicked for the case by the 26 Republican-led states who sued over the policies.
The Obama administration implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, and modified it in November 2014 to increase the number of people eligible.
The original DACA granted immigrants who came to the United States as kids, went to school and didn’t commit any serious crimes a two-year “lawful presence” free of deportation and to obtain federal work permits.
The modified DACA guidelines expanded the deferred-deportation period from two to three years.
Citing the case record and transcripts from hearings in his Brownsville courtroom, Hanen says that before he issued the injunction Justice Department attorneys lied to him that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services hadn’t issued any three-year permits under the new DACA guidelines, when in fact they had granted more than 100,000 three-year permits.
The Justice Department copped to the misconduct and apologized to Hanen at a March 2015 hearing where the judge asked, “Can I trust what the president says?”
The Fifth Circuit in New Orleans twice upheld the injunction against expanded DACA and Deferred Action for Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which would make some parents of U.S. citizens or legal residents eligible for the same benefits as people who qualify for the modified DACA program.
The case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments on April 18 and is expected to issue a ruling in late June.
In his May 19 order, Hanen said he expected the case to be remanded to his court to resolve two of the key arguments made by the Texas-led plaintiffs: that Obama violated the Administrative Procedure Act by making a substantive change to immigration policy without public input, and that the Constitution reserves that power to Congress.
But Hanen wrote that now it appears the Supreme Court may have the final word on the case, and he felt compelled to “rule upon what may be the only remaining issue” — sanctions against government attorneys — before the high court’s ruling comes down.
Hanen, a George W. Bush-nominee, said he wasn’t sure if the government’s attorneys had intentionally lied to him about the DACA permits until he studied their filings in the case.
“The government claims that the reason its lawyers were not candid with the court was that they either ‘lost focus on the fact’ or that somehow ‘the fact receded in memory or awareness,'” the 28-page order said.
“The government’s brief admits that its lawyers, including the lawyers who appeared in this court, knew that the defendants were granting three-year DACA renewals using the three-year period created by the 2014 DHS directive at issue in this case. Yet the government’s lawyers chose not to tell the plaintiff states or the court.”
Hanen mounted his soapbox in the order, citing the “local rules” of the Southern District of Texas that state, “A lawyer shall not knowingly make a false statement of material fact or law to a tribunal.”
The judge ordered Justice Department attorneys to file under seal a list of all the people in the 26 plaintiff states who received three-year DACA benefits from Nov. 20, 2014 to March 3, 2015.
“This list should include all personal identifiers and locators including names, addresses, ‘A’ file numbers and all available contact information, together with the date the three-year renewal or approval was granted. This list shall be separated by individual plaintiff state,” Hanen wrote.
The Department of Homeland Security assigns A-numbers, short for alien registration numbers, to all residents who aren’t yet naturalized.
Hanen also ordered all Justice Department attorneys who practice in either federal or state court in one of the 26 plaintiff states to take at least three hours of ethics training per year.
“The attorney general of the United States shall appoint a person within the department to ensure compliance with this order. That person shall annually file one report with this court,” the order states.
The report must include a list of all the Justice Department attorneys in Washington who have obtained a certificate for finishing the course, Hanen decreed.
He declined to issue monetary sanctions, noting that taxpayers would be the ones footing the bill for the government’s failings.
He further ordered U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to tell him within 60 days what steps she’s taken to ensure the Office of Professional Responsibility, the ethics watchdog for government attorneys, is doing its job.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which was set to start accepting expanded DACA applications on Feb. 18, 2015, two days after Hanen issued his injunction, posted a recall notice on its website for the three-year DACA permits.
Though Hanen indicated in his order that all the three-year DACA permits the agency issued were illegal and asked for a record of them, the government’s recall notice only pertains to permits issued after Hanen signed the injunction.
“This action did not apply to the approximately 108,000 3-year work permits that were approved and mailed by USCIS on or before the Feb. 16, 2015, injunction date and that have never been returned or reissued by USCIS,” the agency states on its website.
“This action affects approximately 2,100 3-year DACA work permits mistakenly issued after the court order.”
The agency claims that it has accounted for 99 percent of the invalid DACA permits.
Asked on Monday afternoon if the government had revoked all the three-year DACA permits it issued, a Citizenship and Immigration Services spokeswoman said she had passed the question to a specialist and was awaiting their reply.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton followed up on Hanen’s sanctions order with a swipe at the president.
“Throughout this case, the administration has struggled to provide accurate, reliable information regarding the scope of the president’s plan or even when it would be implemented. From the start, our lawsuit has been about asserting that one person cannot unilaterally change the law, and part of that is ensuring everyone abides by the rule of law,” Paxton said in a statement.